July 24, Unanswered Prayers: a Sunday Scriptures blog

This Gospel poses problems for preachers! It has two lessons about prayer. First, Jesus teaches his disciples the Our Father. It would be pretty safe to preach about that! Next he tells a parable about a person who arrives late, after all the town’s gates and doors are locked for the night. He needs food, but his friend refuses to open up so late. Jesus recommends asking him again and again until the request is answered. At the end of this passage, we hear: “…ask and you will receive … for everyone who asks, receives….” Well, for children and adults, this is a problem! As my beloved aunts used to lament, “Sister Mary, why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” For others, it also occurs to wonder: If I pray and God cures my cold, then why doesn’t God do something about the big things, like the war in Ukraine? Why does God tolerate evils like wars? There aren’t any totally satisfactory answers to these questions — which is why many preachers avoid this passage! There are a couple things we can remind ourselves about. First, when we look at how the universe that God created actually works, we notice that advances happen slowly; but we are often impatient about waiting for a good outcome for our prayer. Many of life’s sufferings take time to resolve, especially relationship and identity issues. Second, we notice that God lets the laws and forces of creation operate freely, and also frees us to welcome his action or reject it. When we pray, we open ourselves to the action of God — but even harder, we open ourselves to whatever the outcome is. Sometimes that is not what we want. Third, Jesus never promised a pain-free or suffering-free life. What he promised is to be with us, to accompany us as someone who experienced pain and suffering himself. When we pray, we place ourselves within his love, his accompaniment. Fourth, a fundamental activity of God is not to change outcomes but to bring the best possible good from them. In the case of evil, sometimes it takes us humans a lot of evil to learn a lesson; consider what we learned about genocide from the evil of Hitler, or what the U.S., after George Floyd’s death, is learning about racism in our history. Or in your own life, a prayer that received a “no” may have led to great things — like a job you did not get or take, a mate you desired but did not win! These are some of the answers about unanswered prayers we have figured out, but one thing is for sure: When I get to heaven, I’ll be right there with my beloved aunts asking God for further explanations about all this!

— Blog entry by Sister Mary Garascia

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